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There’s a saying that, “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM”.

And while this might be true for a very small number professional service firms (McKinsey, etc.) for most firms the brand is much less important than the individual providing the service.

They’re not buying from Trident Partners. They’re buying from Paul or Diane.

And yet most firms approach marketing by spotlighting the brand above all things. There are reasons for this, some of them very good ones.

But firms need to start thinking about their people as sub-brands in themselves, and designing strategies to increase their visibility.

Why you should invest in personal brands

There are numerous benefits to investing in making your team members more visible:

  • People tend to engage with people more than brands through organic channels. Think about the posts you see most often in LinkedIn. Think about the ones you liked or commented on. Odds are they were written by a person, not an organization. This could be because we just like engaging with people, or it could be because the tone of voice from the individual has more personality. Because LinkedIn is algorithmic, it rewards posts and accounts that get solid engagement by showing their content to more people over time.
  • Strong personal brands often have larger audiences than the corporate brand. While this changes once you reach a certain size, for boutique firms it’s not uncommon for their partner’s followings on social to be larger than the brand itself. And there’s a combinatorial effect - 4 partners, 4x the reach.
  • It’s a competitive advantage for attracting talent. All things being equal, if you can tell potential talent that they have a marketing apparatus behind them designed to increase their visibility, that’s an awfully compelling reason to join your firm.
  • It’s a useful tool in successful planning and career laddering. While the “founder led sale” is incredibly useful early on, eventually you need revenue generating professionals who aren’t the owners. But in the typical associate > director > partner progression, that transition from a manager of the work to the rainmaker is notoriously difficult. Having a built in system for manufacturing rainmakers at scale is huge.

What about key person risk?

One of the more common arguments against this line of thinking is that building the brand of their talent magnifies key person risk. Increasing their visibility means more overtures to defect and join a competing firm. Why invest in building the brand of a partner or managing director, only to have them leave for greener pastures?

This is similar to the familiar argument against training.

“What if we train them and they leave?” “What if we don’t and they stay?”

It’s true, they will become more visible as a result of your investment in them. But:

  • That’s the whole point
  • If they become more visible and therefore more valuable (in the form of increased revenues), you should probably pay to keep them.
  • This is one more reason why having a strong Point of View matters. It’s not just a tool for attracting customers, but for attracting and retaining talent.

If you pay them well, invest in their brand, and have strong firm values they are in alignment with, we believe the increased key person risk is overblown.

This seems like a ton of work.

That’s true. You have to still do marketing for the brand, and now have to create a different editorial calendar for your team. It’s difficult for a typical boutique firm’s already stretched (or nonexistent) marketing team to take all this on.

But it is possible.

Madison’s Authority Marketing system is designed specifically for this reason. It provides revenue-generating professionals in your firm with short and long form content each month, optimized for the platforms that matter to your business, and requiring less than 2 hours a month of their active time. You can learn more about it here.

Invest not just in your team’s knowledge, but in their brand.

An investment in your team’s personal brands is a competitive advantage from a marketing and talent retention perspective. While it’s a long-term investment, it’s like a flywheel - as the machine gets spinning, over time it gets progressively more effective.

The best time to start was 2 years ago. The second best time is today.